Episode 12 – Trigger Warning

I want to start this off by acknowledging that the title “trigger warning” is meant as exactly that. A trigger warning. So if you are in a place where you are likely to be triggered by abuse or domestic violence you may want to skip this post, or If you are going to read anyway, to have a support person in place.

I also want to suggest that if you are someone super close to me – my family, my friends, you may want to choose to skip this one as it may be tough to read too. I would like for as many people as possible to hear my story, as I believe that the more light that is shed on the topic and the more awareness that it created, the more people can be helped. However, I also understand that some people may not want to listen as a protective measure, and that is, of course, fine.

When the Me Too movement started I wanted to share my story. I wanted to free myself as I was watching so many other women do, and I wanted my story to help others to know that they can overcome, they can escape and they can choose a different life for themselves. But I couldn’t. I was too afraid of what people would think. I was too afraid of how I might be judged. I was also too afraid of how HE would feel, and how his family or our mutual friends would judge me for coming forward. I felt some strange need to protect his fragility, to keep protecting this person who I had once loved so fiercely, and who had stripped so much of me away. I am done being small to make other people happy. I am done putting their needs or wishes above myself and all of those people that I might help by sharing. I am done worrying about how I will be judged. This is my life, this is my experience and I am ready to own it.

I am removing the name of the other person in this story in order to provide some level of anonymity and because this is not about him. I have no desire to shame, blame or cause any drama in his life. I do not believe for even a second that this was ever his plan or his intent, and I am willing to bet that this individual still doesn’t even realize the extent of the damage that they caused through their actions. Does that excuse it? No. But going out into the world with the sole person of harming or attacking another human won’t benefit anyone. The point of this episode is to use my experience to help other people. To help them to understand that my story is not special or unique. That this is something happening all around us, to people that we love, or maybe even to you – and that we are not alone in our circumstances.

As I sit to type this I am nervous, my hands a bit shaky and I’m wondering if I will be able to go through it without crying. I came up with about a hundred and fifty reasons NOT to publish this but at the end of the day I know that those are excuses that my brain is making to try to keep me from being vulnerable. Our brains love to protect us. They hate vulnerability. But this is something that keeps coming up, over and over and over, all over the place and I know, I feel it in my bones, that by recording this I will help someone. So here we go.

This is my story – or at least, one of the chapters.

At 16 I was shy, I was nervous and lacked confidence. I occasionally looked in the mirror and thought maybe I might be pretty, but that was generally drowned out by a wave of self-doubt, and self-deprecating comments. I was honestly probably just like most kids that age… still trying to figure it out. I’d never really had a boyfriend, I mean I sort of dated a guy for 2 weeks in the summer between 8th and 9th grade, but let’s be real, we saw each other once, sloppily kissed while his parents were at work and then I realized I wasn’t interested and broke it off. Once school started I found out that he had only dated me because my friend made him. Even if anyone had been interested in me in high school, they wouldn’t have been able to express it – because I was so shy I wouldn’t have made eye contact or let them talk to me. There was one guy who managed to break through all of those barriers and express interest because he was just so insanely bold. He made me uncomfortable. He made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck – and not in a good way. And he eventually molested me in the hallways of the school, when it was so crammed with people heading to their next class that no one noticed – and I was too scared and humiliated to scream or cause a scene. We get ourselves into trouble being nice… not wanting to look like a jerk. Eventually I did tell him I wasn’t interested and that I would never date him. In return he told the school I was racist and wouldn’t date him because he was black. Thanks Dude. That was cool. And a little ironic, all things considered.

All of this just to say that my experience with boys up to this point was incredibly limited, and I was all the more shy and nervous to be honest about my feelings, speak up for myself or state my own desired as a result.

That summer I went over to my cousin’s house. We are only a couple of months apart, and while I think that his family had hoped that I could help him make friends when they moved to the neighborhood – it actually ended up being the reverse. He seemed to make friends quickly and easily in school, where I was far too shy and withdrawn to be noticed. He had started a band, and I went over to hang out with him and his bandmates one night. That was when I met X. He was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome in my teenage mind, and oh so mysterious. I started hanging around with my cousin and his band, laying on the basement floor listening to their music, feeling it vibrate through the walls and floor around me, and staring at this tall handsome front man who smiled at me between lyrics.

Right from the beginning he knew how to make me feel special. He knew how to make me feel pretty, smart, sweet. He learned how empathetic I was, and he gained my trust by spilling his soul. Telling me of his girlfriend who had crushed his soul by cheating on him, the father he had never really known, but had popped into his life to repeatedly abuse him and then leave, and other traumas from his life. This boy was dark, and twisted and broken, and I thought I could fix him. He was giving me confidence through his adoration and belief in me and any dream I cared to share.

One night we ended up alone in my room. He asked me if I was easily offended. I answered of course not, I giggled, embarrassed but also a bit confused as to why he would ask, and he leaned in and kissed me. A terrible kiss, where he knew exactly what to do and I had zero clue. But the fireworks went and I was completely and totally smitten. After that we started dating. Of course I wasn’t actually allowed to be his girlfriend, that took another FOUR YEARS, but we acted like we were boyfriend and girlfriend. He just told me that he couldn’t handle the commitment because he was too afraid to get hurt. I believed him, I promised him I would never hurt him and I would stand by him no matter what. No matter what – and that is exactly what I tried to do.

A year ago, I would have told you that things didn’t really get bad until a couple of years later when X went to college and started drinking with his new friends. I dismissed the impact of his lying, his manipulations and all of the cheating – because we weren’t “technically” together and I didn’t want to acknowledge the damage done. It actually wasn’t even until I read Amy Schumer’s booked, and she described how her first sexual encounter was “grape” also known as grey area rape, and I heard a voice inside my head saying “it’s not GRAPE Amy, that was RAPE” that I realized that our first encounters were awfully similar and that the reason I had cried so hard after my first experience was sex was because I had in fact been raped. I was just a month shy of my 17th birthday and far too young to be messing around with any of that. He had apologized afterwards, saying “I probably should have asked if it was ok” but then quickly reminded me that “he knew I wanted it”. And he was right, there was a part of me that DID want to have sex. I was magnetically attracted to him and had all the teenage hormones to back it up. So I accepted that he was right, and how sweet of him to apologize and make sure I was ok. I didn’t even tell him how upset I was, or that I was NOT ready and he should have asked first, because I wanted to be nice, and couldn’t risk his fragile, vulnerable ego. So I waited until he left and then sobbed into my pillow.

There were so many instances of me trying to be “nice” at the expense of my own emotions, or life. I felt like loving someone meant giving them all of myself, and being willing to do anything for me. Combined with his ability to throw a huge, heartbreaking, guilt inducing tantrum – it was a recipe for disaster.

Within 2 years, at the age of 18, I found myself locked in a bathroom, pregnancy test in hand, while he basically tried to break down the door because I wasn’t ready to let him in. I needed 5 seconds to process that positive line. I needed to come to terms with my emotions before processing his, but he couldn’t stand not having complete control at every turn. I was pregnant. At 18. I looked back on my life and could not believe that this was where I had ended up. Straight A’s. Plans to become a doctor, and to open a nonprofit, and to change the world. Modest. Afraid of wearing too much make up or clothes to skimpy. Terrified of being judged. But in that moment, the terror was met equally by joy and excitement. Because at that point in my life there was nothing, and I mean nothing, that I wanted more than to be a Mother. It was a bit early, it wasn’t going to be perfect, but damnit I would love that baby with everything I had.

The anger is his voice and the pounding on the door finally escalated to a place where I was too afraid NOT to let him in, and the moment he saw the test something flashed through his eyes. I didn’t know what it was, but I read it as excitement and I breathed a sigh of relief. Later that night he separated me away from everyone in the car and told me that he wasn’t ready, he wasn’t willing to ruin our lives, he had just started school and planned to be a famous musician and producer, and I WOULD be having an abortion. It was not up for discussion.

For possibly the very first time in our relationship I argued with him. I told him that there was no way I was going through with that, and I would raise the baby with or without him. He could walk, but I was keeping the baby. I remember the look in his eyes in the car that night, and how he spat the words at me… telling me that if I even so much as considered keeping that baby he and his family would hire the best lawyers in the country, take custody and move across the country. That I would never see my child again and he would raise it. I believe him. His family had money, or at least they appeared to have money, and his Mother would have died to make sure her baby got his way. There was no way that I was letting that happen. I may not have loved myself enough to leave, but I would not subject my child to that life.

I wish that I had gone to my Mother. I now know how fierce she is, and I know she would have helped me. By that point though he had already started to methodically separate me from my family and friends, and I felt like there was no one to turn to.

He booked the appointment. He controlled my every move leading up to it. What I ate, who I spoke to, where I went. It was all out of love and concern for my wellbeing he told me. He was worried about me. He picked me up and brought me to the clinic and then filled out the paperwork because I couldn’t see through my tears, or stop my hands from shaking long enough to do more than sign my name at the bottom. I was given SO many drugs that day. Drugs to calm me, but really all they did was make me high and more scared. When they brought me in and started to try to do the procedure I had one last burst of determination and tried to fight them off. There were so many of them, and I was so high. Their faces turned purple and melted off, slipping along the floor and turning into puddles with eyes and teeth, and I couldn’t articulate anything other than the words “No” while thrashing around, so they held me down and aborted my child. I have no idea why they didn’t stop when I was so clearly panicked.

Afterwards I was made to wait for some amount of time, I saw a counsellor and then was sent off on my own. I remember stumbling into the hallway, unable to find X and then hiding behind the plant outside the elevator because I was so scared, so overwhelming sad, and I had no idea what to do or where to go. This angel of a couple found me. She had fared much better, and I’m guessing had far fewer drugs administered, and her boyfriend sweetly lifted me up and carried me in his arms to the lobby, where we found X.

A couple of years later he told me that it had been intentional. He had gotten me pregnant on purpose and then by his admission changed his mind. I don’t believe that though. I believe that he got me pregnant to show me just how much control he had over me and my life, and to methodically strip away the last parts of self-worth and dignity that remained.

Shortly after I decided that the consequences of sex were not even close to worth it. I let him know that I wasn’t ready to be in a sexual relationship and I needed to step back. He laughed, berated me and then when we were alone in the house he violently raped me. I screamed, I kicked, I fought and then I saw this smug look of satisfaction in his eyes and came to the horrifying realization that the more I struggled the more he enjoyed himself. So I cried silently and waited. There was no point in fighting after that, so we just went back to normal and I shoved my guilt as far down into my soul as I could.

From that point things went dramatically downhill. He began to drink more, and when he drank he became irrational. He very carefully constructed conflict between myself and my family and friends, creating as much separation as possible, and leaving me with as few lifelines as possible. Creating stories, shifting perceptions. He eventually moved me into his Mother’s house to live with him as his “anxiety” couldn’t handle living separately and he was too afraid that I would cheat. Ironically. I never cheated on him. I do however, know of upwards of 20 women that he slept with during our relationship.  This is something that is very common – for people to flip the script, becoming angry and jealous when in fact they are the ones one have been unfaithful.

He chose what clothes I wore, how I did my hair, the colour of my eyes (they are green, but he wanted them greener so he got me brighter contacts) and how and when I wore makeup. He made me the entertainment at parties for his friends, and even gifted my body to one of them for their birthday. And again, after I cried until there were no tears left to fall he told me that I had asked for it, I had wanted it.  If I had makeup on I was not allowed to go out without one of his friends escorting me, just in case. I was used as bait at bars to start fights. He would dress me like a pretty little prostitute and then wait for someone to check me out, which was his cue to beat them within an inch of consciousness. I stopped going to bars. I had almost entirely lost myself to his grip but I couldn’t.

Our life was laid out before us. The wedding, the house and kids planned. And yet I found myself fantasizing that something would happen to stop it all. I couldn’t leave, I had promised, and he held me to that promise every time that I faltered on our plan.

One night I came home after a crappy day with the horses at the barn. I was sad, and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed with a book. He asked me to come outside to the garage where he and his friends were drinking and hanging out. I very politely and oh so carefully declined – went upstairs, took a shower and curled up in our bed with a copy of Harry Potter.

I got a few chapters in before he wandered into our room and informed me that his friends were gone and I had been incredibly rude. He was wasted and I needed to be careful. When X was drunk he always started out fine, but every single time, something would happen to trigger him. He would look down blankly for a few moments and then when he looked back up his eyes would be clouded over with anger. Up to that point he had never done anything more than scream, shove or verbally abuse me, but that night everything changed. I explained again, and let him know I wasn’t feeling well enough to socialize and he snapped. He grabbed the hangers from the closet and started whipping them, and anything else he could find at my face. When I tried to shield myself with the blanket he jumped on top of me, grabbing my shoulders and started slamming my head into the back board over and over until everything started to swirl and turn black. I don’t remember screaming but his family heard me, and his sister ran into her room, locked the door and called 911. I will be forever grateful for that move. His Mom came up and screamed at him to get off. He turned on her long enough for me to get up and get my bearings again. His sister yelled that she had called the cops, and he grabbed me and dragged me out onto the street. I begged him to stop, his Mother followed and he became more and more agitated. I stupidly told her to go back inside and then he proceeded to drag me by my hair, half naked, in nothing but his old t-shirt down the street to the ravine. I would love to say I don’t know why I didn’t struggle or scream, but I do. I didn’t fight him because I was embarrassed. I was mortified that this is where I ended up. A smart girl, from a good family and here I am in nothing but a tshirt being dragged by my hair. This is not where I was supposed to end up. I was also afraid to hurt his feelings. That is insane, and I realize that now, but it is the truth and sadly this is NOT uncommon. So many people, especially women, put themselves into compromising situations, ignore their fear and their intuition on a daily basis for fear or being rude, being perceived as unkind or making the other person uncomfortable.

To this day I still have no idea why he brought me there. I am sure his version would be far different and he would tell you he never meant to hurt me. I would like to believe that he just wanted to separate me from the chaos to talk, but statistics and research would tell another, more likely and far more tragic ending to that story. The police came. They calmed him down. We went home. And I proceeded to jump reflexively every time he touched me.

Three weeks later I confided in my sister. I told her what had happened. She took me to his house and we packed up all of my things and moved them out while he was passed out in the basement, after getting drunk the night before. She stood beside me and watched over me as I told him I was leaving. And I was free. Sort of. He continued to pursue me. Even years later he would call me at all hours of the night looking for reassurance, guidance or seeking approval. For a few years we even tried to remain friends. We got together a few times, we worked together on a project or two. I still felt bound to my commitment to support him “no matter what”. Bound by guilt, by love, by promises made when I was too young to understand them. But I never fell back into that pattern. I moved on and I built a beautiful life.

So why did it take so long? Why did it have to get that bad? This is one of the most common things that I hear in relation to domestic violence. Why didn’t they leave? Or, why did they get involved with such an awful person in the first place? But you have to remember, it doesn’t start with being hit. It starts with love. Charisma. Adoration. It starts with building trust. This was the most volatile, violent and abusive relationship I was ever involved in, but it also may take the cake for the most romantic. He showered me with love, affection and gifts. He worshipped my body, my mind and my heart. The man put up a Christmas tree and made it snow in our bedroom because I wanted a white Christmas for goodness sakes. They are generally not all bad. In many cases these are humans who have also suffered greatly, who have experience trauma and have been victimized themselves. They are able to appeal to our empathy, and to use it against us. They are able to justify their actions to themselves, and often to the person that they are harming, and so we continue to forgive over and over with the hope that it will change, it will be better, our compassion will help them to heal.

We don’t leave because of love. Because of commitment and promises we have made. Because we are embarrassed. Because we don’t want it to be true, or we don’t realize how bad it actually is. Because we have given them every part of ourselves and feel we will have nothing left. Because they make us believe we are crazy, or unlovable, or a disgrace. Because we are afraid. Most cases of domestic homicide happen while the victim is trying to leave, or right after she has left – because the abuser now has nothing left to lose. One of the smartest things I did was packing up in secret, and making sure I had a witness when I did confront him.

In hindsight it looks so obvious. Looking back I can see it all so clearly, the slow process of taking control, the degradation of my character, the building of shame, the isolation from the family and friends who would have supported me or reported what was happening. In the moment though, I assure you it isn’t that clear.

He made me crazy, or at least he made me believe I was crazy. One particularly embarrassing night I broke into his house while he was sleeping and punched him in the face. I had found yet another set of nude photos in his email when he left it open on my computer, and I was so angry I went against everything in myself and attacked him in his sleep. He woke up and the arguing escalated, I begged him to stop torturing me, to either leave or love me the way I needed to be loved and he convinced me I was insane. He was gaslighting me at every turn, making me question everything I thought I knew right down to my own personality, beliefs and morals. He told me there was a train bridge just a block away, and that I should go jump. That he certainly didn’t care, and that it would give him something interesting to watch on the news the next day. I clearly, obviously should have left. But of course I didn’t.

I was primed for it, being shy, self-conscious and as young as I was, but there is no typical domestic violence or rape victim. It happens in all age groups, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and income brackets. Yes it is mostly women and children affected, but there are men that are abused as well.

She is not small. She is not weak. She is not stupid. She is a piece of and lives inside each and every one of us. She wishes for love, acceptance and happily ever after and often by the time she realizes where she is or where she is headed it is too late.

I share my story not make you sad, or to pity me. I am happy. I live a beautiful life and believe it or not I actually view this experience as a gift. I went through this, I am stronger and wiser as a result and I can now use my experience to help other women to rise from the ashes of their own abuse or to avoid going that far down the road in the first place. I wanted to save him. I stayed because I thought I could save him – but the reality is that this journey is what I will use to help others instead, because it was never my responsibility or within my power to save him.

If you are in an abusive relationship, or even if you your partner has never hurt you but it exhibiting signs of being controlling – financially, emotionally, with relationships, food, clothing or any other aspect of your life, is separating you from friends and family (even if you feel complicit in that separation) or makes you feel like less of a person – please seek help. Reach out to family and friends that will support you, contact a therapist or other third party who can provide assistance. I understand how scary this can be. I understand how interwoven our lives can be come and how it feels impossible or downright dangerous to try to extract yourself from this relationship, but please, reach out. There are so many people and agencies that are willing to help and will work with you to come up with a safe plan to remove yourself, and your family from this situation.

If you know someone who is being abused PLEASE SUPPORT THEM. The BEST thing that my Mother did was to continue to love me throughout the whole, awful process. No matter how shamefully I behaved or dressed, my Mom supported me. I knew that she wasn’t a fan of X. She did voice that, but she did so gently and lovingly so that when the time came where I needed to reach out for help, that bridge was not burned. I understand not wanting to support the abuse and the desire people have to draw hard lines, but if you tell your child or friend that you will not support them as long as they are in that relationship, or you allow the conflicts to escalate it makes it all the easier for their abuser to separate their victim from the flock.

Finally, please share this with all of the women in your life. Please help me to get my story out to as many people as possible so that they are easier able to see the red flags and to understand that there IS a gorgeous life waiting on the other side of abuse. 

If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation – be it financial, physical, emotional, sexual, control related or any type – please know that help is available. See links below for help in your area:

Australia 

Canada

China

New Zealand 

USA 

Europe

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